Grand Lake Fire asks voters about term limits, again
Grand lake fire protection district special election
Ballot question: “Shall the limitations on terms of office of elected members of the Board of Directors of the Grand Lake Fire Protection District be eliminated pursuant to Article XVIII, Section 11(2) of the Colorado Constitution?”
Election date: 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Feb. 4, 2014
Location: Grand Lake fire station, 201 W. Portal Road
GRAND LAKE —The Grand Lake Fire Protection District will hold a special district election in February regarding board-member term limits.
A similar ballot question was presented to district voters in May 2012. The question failed with 189 “no” votes to 139 “yes” votes. According to fire chief Mike Long, with or without term limits, all elected board members would serve a four-year term and must be re-elected by voters. But by eliminating limits, the board members could continue serving past the current two-term limit. Other Grand County fire districts, like Grand Fire in Granby and East Grand Fire in Winter Park, have eliminated board term limits.
Grand Lake Fire is continuing to push the issue because there’s a lack of community interest in running for and volunteering on the board, he said. The pool of potential candidates is stretched by competition with other elected positions in Grand Lake, like the chamber of commerce and recreation district boards.
“When we have dedicated members who want to continue serving (on the Grand Lake Fire board), we’d like to give them that opportunity,” Long said.
The special district election comes hot on the heels of a large staff turnover at the fire department in late 2013. Of the department’s five full-time and two part-time staff, three full-time workers and one volunteer “separated,” including the fire captain and lieutenant, citing issues with leadership.
“I hope to see change in the fire department,” said former district administrator Mindy Everhart, who left Grand Lake Fire after 15 years. “A ‘no’ vote on this would be a great place to start.”
Attempts to contact other separated employees and the volunteer were not immediately returned.
The turnover left some residents worried the fire department wouldn’t be adequately equipped to respond to emergencies. According to Long, the separations were the result of “unresolvable internal conflicts.” He said keeping public emergency response agencies staff in Grand County is often a challenge.
“With an elevated cost of living, below-average pay compared to the Front Range and a relatively low call volume due to our rural area, both volunteer and paid positions come and go with surprising regularity. Sometimes they go one at a time, and sometimes they go in groups of two or three,” he said. “Change is something we all have gotten used to.”
The vacant positions have since been filled, although the new lieutenant won’t officially join the ranks until mid-January. Long said his fire team is now stronger and more cohesive than ever.
The district is holding the special election on Feb. 4, just ahead of the mandated special districts election in May, when current term limits put three of the five board seats up for contest.
According to Long, the district is again asking voters to toss out term limits because he received feedback that the 2012 election question wording was confusing, although he said they copied the wording from a similar initiative, and because the district didn’t push a marketing effort in the past. For the 2014 question, Long said he believed a local advocacy group has sent out informational fliers about the ballot question.
Also for 2014, the fire district won’t be using mail-in ballots. Instead, voters will need to visit a polling place at the Grand Lake fire station between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. In the 2012 election, 272 voters returned mail-in ballots while only 60 walk-in voters attended the polling place election.
Clarification: This election is a polling place election, instead of a mail ballot election. As with any election, voters can still request “mail-in” ballots, formerly called “absentee” ballots. The last day to request such ballots for applicants wishing to receive them by mail is Jan. 28. The last day to request such ballots if applicants wish to pick up the ballots at the fire station is Jan. 31. For the ballots to count, they must be received by 7 p.m. on Feb. 4 at the fire station.
Leia Larsen can be reached at 970-887-3334 ext. 19603.
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